Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) traces its origins to early 20th century Japan and the martial art of Judo. Examining the history, techniques, and philosophies of Judo provides critical insight into the foundations of BJJ.
The Origins of Judo
In 1882 Jigoro Kano (1860-1938) founded the first Judo school, known as the Kodokan, in Tokyo, Japan. Kano was exposed to multiple styles of traditional Japanese jujitsu growing up and began his own formal training at age 17. After studying two forms of jujitsu, he decided to combine their most effective aspects into a new martial art.
Kano eliminated the most dangerous techniques from jujitsu and emphasized free-sparring practice to create his new discipline. He originally called his art “Kano Jiu Jitsu” but soon changed the name to “Kodokan Judo”, literally meaning “the gentle way”.
Kano promoted Judo through frequent demonstrations and challenges with practitioners of other styles. Over time it gained acceptance and by the 1920s was mandatory in Japanese police training and high school physical education.
The Japanese government eventually recognized Judo as the national martial art. Its popularity continues today with hundreds of thousands practicing worldwide.
The Spread of Judo
In addition to growing in Japan, Judo also spread internationally as students of Kano traveled overseas. One of the first countries where Judo gained a foothold was Great Britain.
Soshihiro Satake was a student of Kano who visited London in the 1890s. He performed many Judo demonstrations and used the art in publicized martial arts challenge matches. Satake brought awareness of Judo to England and helped establish the Budokwai, London’s first Japanese martial arts school, in 1918.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s origins can be traced to the arrival of one of Kano’s students in South America. Mitsuyo Maeda (1878–1941) studied at the Kodokan for years becoming a master instructor. As part of Kano’s efforts to spread Judo worldwide, Maeda traveled internationally giving demonstrations and participating in challenge matches.
In 1914 Maeda arrived in Brazil, settling in the city of Belem. Here he met Gastão Gracie who helped him establish classes. Maeda taught Gastão’s son Carlos the basics of Judo including throwing techniques, grappling, and submissions. Carlos would pass these skills on to his brothers, planting the seeds for the development of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, later known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Principles of Judo: Maximum Efficiency and Mutual Welfare
In developing his new martial art Kano identified several core principles that became the foundation of Judo:
Seiryoku Zen’yō (Maximum Efficiency)
This principle emphasizes using minimal effort and movement for maximum effect. Precise technique and proper body positioning enable a smaller, weaker opponent to generate sufficient force to throw or control a larger, stronger adversary.
Jita Kyōei (Mutual Benefit and Welfare)
Kano stressed that for real progress in Judo, one cannot focus solely on self-improvement. You must have concern for helping your training partners improve their skills as well. More advanced students should assist less experienced ones.
Seiryoku Zen’yō (Minimum Effort, Maximum Effect)
Applying technique in the most efficient way possible. This relies on using proper timing, speed, and body mechanics rather than brute muscular strength and tension.
Through diligent practice, a practitioner can integrate these principles into their use of Judo throwing, grappling, and submission techniques. The same philosophy of efficiency and mutual growth underpins BJJ today.
Throwing Techniques: Nage Waza
Standing throwing techniques remain a central part of Judo. These throws known collectively as nage waza provide invaluable skills for takedowns that also cross over into grappling.
Kano drew from the various styles of jujitsu in compiling the throwing techniques he incorporated into his original Judo curriculum. Let us examine some of the major types:
Ashiwaza (Foot Sweeps)
This group of techniques uses a sweeps or hooks against the opponent’s legs or feet to break their balance and throw them to the mat. Deashi harai, which sweeps the opponent’s forward foot, is one of the best known ashiwaza techniques.
Te Waza (Hand Throws)
These throws utilize the arms as the primary means of throwing the opponent. Te waza include some of the most popular Judo techniques like ippon seoi nage. Here the practitioner loads the opponent on their back, then rolls them over the shoulder and arm onto the mat in front of them.
Koshi Waza (Hip Throws)
Koshi waza rely on hip motion and contact to throw the opponent. O goshi, the major outer hip throw, remains one of the quintessential Judo techniques. The thrower loads the opponent on their hip, then rotates the body to flip them onto the ground.
Mastering any of these throwing techniques requires focused, long-term practice. However, the skills developed in nage waza pay big dividends in takedowns for both standing and ground grappling.
Grappling Techniques: Osaekomi Waza and Kansetsu Waza
Once a Judo match goes to the mat, competitors will transition to pinning and submission techniques. These make up the grappling dimension of Judo.
Osaekomi Waza (Pinning Techniques)
Pinning techniques aim to hold the opponent’s shoulders flat on their back preventing them from escaping or counterattacking. Osaekomi waza restrict the opponent’s mobility and ability counter grapple.
Kesa gatame, also known as the scarf hold, remains one of the most utilized pinning techniques in both Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It anchors the opponent’s shoulder and arm to the mat. Their torso and legs remain mobile but they cannot escape the hold.
Kansetsu Waza (Submission Techniques)
Submission techniques apply leverage against joints or chokeholds to force the opponent to submit. Kansetsu waza provide a wide array of submission options.
The juji gatame armbar uses the legs to isolate and hyper-extend the elbow joint. Hadaka jime, known as the “naked choke” in BJJ, wraps the arm around the opponent’s neck to strangle them into submission.
Training in grappling and submissions allows the Judoka to maintain control of an opponent and defeat them whether the match remains standing or goes to the mat. Carlos Gracie carried these techniques over to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu providing a critical foundation in ground fighting skills.
Randori: Judo’s Live Sparring
Randori, meaning free practice, has been central to Judo since its inception in 1882. Kano believed having students continually practice techniques against fully resisting partners was essential. He considered randori the proving ground where Judoka could integrate skills honed through solo drills into their live repertoire.
Typically, a randori session begins with a standing phase where competitors attempt takedowns and throws. Once the match goes to the ground, they’ll use their grappling and submission skills against each other.
Regular randori training provides many benefits:
- Pressure tests technique in live, unscripted conditions
- Develops proper timing, distancing, and technical execution
- Builds experience moving and reacting against resistance
- Improves situational awareness and use of angles
- Helps overcome fear and build self-confidence
Randori remains a vital component of Judo practices worldwide to this day. It serves as a bridge between controlled drill work and free competition. The Gracie family recognized randori’s importance and integrated intense live sparring into their Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training regimen.
The Evolution to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Maeda passed along the core skills of Judo – throwing techniques, grappling, submissions – to Carlos Gracie. Carlos and his brothers Helio, Osvaldo, Gaston, and Jorge trained these techniques and used them to develop their distinctive style of jiu jitsu.
They tested their skills in challenge matches held in their garage, which became known as the Gracie Academy. Carlos, Helio, and their brothers refined techniques through these fights against opponents of all styles and sizes.
Over decades, BJJ diverged from its Judo origins in some respects. BJJ’s approach shifted to emphasize ground grappling over throwing. The Gracies also developed their own styles of positional control and submissions suited to 1 on 1 ground fighting.
However, despite its continuing evolution, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu retains core technical and conceptual elements descended directly from Judo, including:
- Throwing techniques for takedowns (nage waza)
- Pinning tactics to control the opponent on the ground (osaekomi waza)
- Submission techniques for finishing fights (kansetsu waza)
- Use of the gi, or uniform (maintained from Judo)
- Emphasis on live, resistant training (randori)
- Philosophical principles like maximum efficiency and mutual welfare
The remarkable advances made by Jigoro Kano created the foundation for Judo that paved the way for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s emergence. While the arts have diverged over the last century, the underlying connection remains intact.
Evolution from Kodokan Judo to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Delving into Judo’s history and techniques not only enlightens us about BJJ’s origins but also the fundamental tactics, training methods, and skills that seamlessly integrated into BJJ. At Apex MMA in Brookvale these deep-rooted principles are incorporated into our training. Discover the combined essence of Judo and BJJ in our beginner classes, where you can embrace the martial arts legacy. Sign up today for a free 7-day trial and experience it firsthand.